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Truckworld

“Man’s identity is residential, and that is why the revolutionary, who has neither
hearth nor home, hence neither faith nor law, epitomises the anguish of errancy …
The man without home is a potential criminal”, Immanuel Kant, Critique of
Judgement, 1793
“They even say there are families who drive around on these roads in their mobile
homes without ever leaving”, Jean Baudrillard America, 1988
“It is more or less like living in your own house … a real mobile home”, Jack,
Thurrock Services, Essex, December, 2000.
We are familiar with the zenning of the motorcycle articulated by Robert M. Prisig. There are
the hymns to the muscular momentum of the train sung by the Italian Futurists with backing
tracks performed by Kraftwerk. The celebration of the aeroplane emerges with lyrical energy
from the notebooks of Le Corbusier and the writings of Saint-Exupery. The notion of the car
emerges as simultaneously a mechanism for isolated existential agonising and for collective
communication / communion is commemorated in Kerouac and condemned in Ballard.
Even nautical vessels have had their enthusiasts, revealed as much in ship’s incorporation
into Art Deco aesthetics and modernist architecture as in the more rudimentary boat’s
persistence as a literary and cinematic device to encapsulate the purported conflict between
the individual and ‘the elements’. The truck, however, does not yet seem to have acquired
the elevated aura that has attached to alternative forms of transport.
This is not to say that the truck is bereft of imaginative association, rather that the
associations it attracts have rarely scaled the rarefied heights to which other vehicles have
ascended. In the early 70’s, numerous popular songs and films celebrated the truck as a
symbol both of a certain bearded sexual liberty and of a blue collar middle-fingering to
government. Yet not all explorations of trucks and trucking have conformed to an ideal of
heterosexual resistance to authority, and memorable exceptions can be located. The
autobiography of black science-fiction author Samuel R. Delany turns the moving rig and
static trailer of the long-distance lorry into perverse spaces of spontaneous sexual
encounters far removed from Kris Kristofferson’s shampooed locks. Moreover, the strange
cinematic enterprises Duel and Trucks, both of which orchestrate their narratives around the
pursuit of humans by apparently autonomous lorries, indicate the cultural traffic is not all
travelling in the direction of a salutation of the truck.
Nevertheless, the correlation between trucks and narrowly-defined sexual and political
freedom resonated through the 70’s and into its succeeding decade with sufficient volume
for the UK satirical series Not the Nine O’Clock News to offer the world their song “I Like
Trucking and I Like to Truck” in 1984. Indeed, this notion of trucking persisted in the regular
TruckFests held throughout Europe, complete with country-rock stages and the fiercely
competitive ranking of the airbrushed exteriors of lorry cabs and trailers whose designs
evoke a limited repertoire of Americana imagery. Away from the world of ‘glamour trucking’,
the political dimension has also been maintained with European haulage drivers particularly French and British – drivers engaging in various demonstrations against
perceived threats to their professional survival.
Having spent some time talking to truck drivers about their experiences, it becomes clear
that irrespective of the coherence of any concerns relating to fuel taxation, theirs is by no

means the carefree existence that the vernacular representations of trucking imply. Despite
– and sometimes paradoxically because of – European Community directives that impose
rigorous parameters on the working day, the truck driver’s routine is an extraordinarily
arduous one. According to my interviewees, weeks when the driver is away from home from
between four and five days are typical, a factor which provoked one driver to declare that
this was “only really a job for loners”. The period spent travelling is one in which the drivers
are prone to a variety of ailments from acute boredom, through prolonged stress to
potentially serious lumbar problems (these latter inspiring the purchase of Scholl back
massagers that can be connected to the cab’s cigarette lighter when the driver’s employers
have not already supplied such a device). The onerous working day, which routinely extends
from driving to completing paperwork and discharging responsibilities for loading and
unloading stock, is exacerbated to the extent that it is conducted under the scrutiny of
various forms of surveillance: the tachometer that provides a diagram of the journey’s
speeds and stops and is audited externally with the results being fed back to the driver’s
employers and, potentially, the transport regulators; the monitoring of various aspects of
vehicle safety; and the customs police endeavouring to thwart the smuggling of goods and
people that may have been surreptitiously inserted into the trailer. Should any individuals
defined by the British press and government in the offensive language of ‘illegal immigrants’
actually manage to circumvent the carbon dioxide checks conducted in Calais and stow on
board the truck to the UK, the driver will be liable for a £2, 000 civil penalty if he or she was
unaware of their presence and criminal sanctions if he or she was. It is not, however, only
the intervention of official bodies about which the drivers need to display vigilance. The
value of the goods being transported (one driver I talked to regularly ran loads in excess of
£250,000) meant that trucks were additionally subject to illicit attentions. “If you park up in
a lay-by, you can guarantee that when you wake up in the morning your [trailer] curtains will
have been cut”. That many of the contracted UK lorry-drivers I spoke with were either on or
just above the national minimum wage, necessitating that their income needed to be
supplemented by overtime, determined that the cumulative pressures of the job were in no
way alleviated by financial compensation.
As Paul Virilio announced in The Aesthetics of Disappearance, “to go nowhere, even to ride
around in a deserted quarter or in a crowded freeway, now seems natural” and it is
tempting to portray the lorry driver travelling on just such a road to nowhere; to see the
driver as a romantic nihilist- nomad with “neither hearth nor home” and nothing to lose.
There are those who have succumbed to such a temptation and have, like Robert Harbison
in Eccentric Spaces, declared that “roads progress towards the conceptual, and faster roads
smooth out the scenery; borders of interstate highways are regularised, perhaps an epitome
of what all roads strive for – to be nowhere, only to be going”. Yet from my perspective,
such an interpretation simply does not ring true of the stories recounted to me by the
drivers I encountered. Rather than travelling to nowhere, the drivers had already in a sense
arrived since rather than being dislocated from domesticity, they had laboured to
established a surrogate habitat within their own cabs. “It is more or less like living in your
own house … a real mobile home”. The cabs I explored were replete with a variety of
creature comforts – comfortable beds, fridges, televisions, CB radios, microwaves,
convection cookers, blinds, wardrobes and other storage ‘cubbies’ – and were isolated from
the ground by their elevation and from the environment by their powerful air-conditioning,
heating and noise-reduction systems. However, although homes in almost every functional
sense, the cabs were rarely ‘homely’ in the sense of exuding an individualised comfortability.
Rather than being confronted by swathes of pornographic material that my condescending
conscience had anticipated, the most ribald images on display involved pages of stylised
lorry photographs removed from issues of Trucking International or Truck and Driver. This

absence of overt customisation was explained as a regrettable consequence of my
interviewees’ status as contracted employees who therefore possessed none of the
decorative independence afforded the owner-drivers, who were free to ornament their
vehicular space according to their own imaginations. Nevertheless, a subdued and transient
personalisation was occasionally affected in the cabs: a posed photograph temporarily
attached to the sun visor, a commemorative ashtray velcroed to the dashboard (and thus
able to be removed upon arrival at the depot), a football scarf discretely folded on top of a
spare set of overalls.
Perhaps such subtle encroachments into the sterile space of a confined compartment
amount to a precursor of a future definition of ‘home’ from which our contemporary
accommodation will appear redundantly baroque in comparison. For the moment, however,
let us indulge in another interpretation of the truck, one that accords it the prestige other
transportation has already secured and let us rework Roland Barthes’ meditations on the
ship in Mythologies into a meditation on the truck. “An inclination for [trucks] always means
the joy of perfectly enclosing oneself, of having at hand the greatest possible number of
objects, and having at one’s disposal an absolutely infinite space. To like [trucks] is first and
foremost to like a house which is absolutely perfect on account of its unremitting enclosure,
and not at all to like vague voyages into the unknown: a [truck] is something that you live in
rather than something that you travel in.”